It was just after dawn in the heat of the West Australian summer. The air was smoky and the earth parched and yellow. Bush fires raged within twenty kilometres of us and we nervously checked our phones for fire evacuation texts and updates on the wind direction.
I sat on the veranda nursing my mug of tea and trying to focus on the abundant birdlife in the green oasis of the garden rather than scan the sky for thicker smoke. A bird bath, dry and lifeless, stood in the flower bed in front of me.
I leapt up to get water. Within minutes of me filling it, birds fluttered about, darting in and out of the surrounding bushes and taking turns to bathe and drink. For a short while, at least, I was totally distracted.
Last month my father was the recipient of the highest decoration in France, the legion d’honneur. This medals were awarded at Yorkshire Air Museum as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.
I had always known he landed on a Normandy beach in 1944 and had heard some of the ‘funny’ stories of the war, perhaps because the horror of war was not a story anyone would want to tell. Even when I had watched Saving Private Ryan many years ago and Dad had said that he had been on the next beach, I had hardly wondered at how he might have felt, perhaps because the imagery in this film was linked to an American flag and an American story.
Only when our family sat listening and watching as five, frail British nonagenarians were awarded their medals and I saw the emotion in my father’s face, did the enormity of what they had experienced sink in.